Abu Dhabi Won’t Have a Times Square

One Times Square

Abu Dhabi won’t have a building like One Times Square in New York, which is covered in billboards. Photo: stephenbaron via Flickr.

Buried in this Construction Week article on new signage regulations, is the revelation that Abu Dhabi won’t have a (non-mall) central shopping/entertainment district with neon billboards like New York’s Times Square, London’s Leicester Square or Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

“New signage design guidelines indicate that no sign or portion of a sign may cover an integral architectural element of a structure, obstructs views into and out of business premises, or advertise third-party products,” writes Gerhard Hope. “The intention here is plain, but again it raises the issue of regulation and enforcement.”

Though I like Abu Dhabi’s mishmash of signs — especially the neon ones along Hamdan and Electra Streets — the government should be commended for its continued push for standardisation, and keeping traffic and people moving.

The UPC also approved Broadway Malyan’s masterplan for a 55,000-person neighbourhood on Yas Island, which had won the “Best Masterplan/Urban Design Project” at the Abu Dhabi Cityscape Awards 2011.

In Dubai, the RTA has awarded the Sufouh Tram project maintenance contract to France’s Alstom Co and the Emirati-Belgian Cofely-Besix Co., and Emaar is set to add another 93,000 square meters to the Dubai Mall, reclaiming its spot as largest in the world.

Qatar is also looking at transportation projects, with construction on Doha’s metro beginning in 2013, with Qatar Railways signing a USD 535 million contract for the Lusail light rail line. Darwish’s Lagoona Mall, near Doha’s The Pearl, opened.

Farther in the region, it’s fascinating to read about the mixed bag of Soviet-era architecture of occupation in Afghanistan, from middle class housing blocks to schools, a bread factory and abandoned pool.

Skyline Stories: New Penn Station?, Housing and Foreclosure Maps, Drexel University Expansion, Augmented Reality

Big national news that some Republicans attempting to remove all non-highway/road funding, and Obama’s recently passed but potentially unsuccessful foreclosure and underwater mortgage bailout (Reuters)…but we’re not tackling those because nothing’s certain yet.

Moynihan Station would move Amtrak into the Post Office, but it will hardly affect 95 percent of Penn Station's commuters. Move Madison Square Garden to Javits and create a new light-filled Penn Station. / Image via NYT.

The Times has an incredibly in-depth map of the nation’s housing (NYT), and related maps show that home foreclosures are damaging cities and metropolitan areas, not just exurban zombie subdivisions (Atlantic Cities and WSJ).

Lots of new redevelopment plans — retrofitting many of the country’s 110,000 suburban malls into walkable downtowns (NYT), the Times ponders if the city move Madison Square Garden to Hudson Yards Site in exchange for a new grand Penn Station (NYT) and London opened its new Olympic Park (Guardian).

Artist's rendering of planned Drexel University project, housing 869 students and 11 retail businesses. / Image via Philly.com.

In Philly, Drexel University continues to expand in West Philly (Philly.com), the Reading Terminal celebrates its 120th anniversary (Philadelphia Business Journal) and the city now has its second historic industrial district with the new Wayne Junction National Historic District (Newsworks).

Volunteer planners are helping community groups in creating plans to improve the oversized and dangerous Queens Boulevard in New York (Urban Omnibus), and the same could happen in Philly with the Planning Commission graduating another class of citizen planners (Plan Philly).

Unfortunately, the state can’t come up with $100 million for SEPTA to renovate the City Hall station (Philly.com) and Florida’s high speed rail line would’ve been profitable within 10 years (Tampa Bay Online). But it’s good to see the Hiway Theater recreating its original marquee (Philly.com).

The Industrial Trust gondola, circa 1983. / Image via Providence Journal.

One of my favorite Philly buildings: Jacob Reed’s Sons Building from 1904 in Arts and Crafts Movement (Plan Philly), and the awesome Art Deco Industrial Trust Building in Providence, Rhode Island — with an airship docking station! (Providence Journal)

In tech news, the downside of technology and the city is the loss of surprise — Design Observer highlights the creeping marketing angle of augmented reality (Part 1 and Part 2), while the Times speaks of it in the death of the cyberflâneur…they’re intertwined but on opposite sides.

Two sides of trash — Hong Kong considers a “pay as you throw” system for garbage, but how can it calculate for apartments? (Atlantic Cities) and the gripping new book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” on Mumbai’s Annawadi slum and the wider world of the perils of globalization (NYT).

Abu Dhabi: Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Park?, Urban Street Design Manual, Beit Beirut Videos

IN DUBAI…the city’s reinvention in the wake of the recession is a running theme on Urban Fabric, and Brownbook profiles the potential greening of Dubai’s massive 14-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. Design firm Portland producing ambitious plans to bury it (like Boston’s Big Dig) then elevate the streets and use parks to knit together the east and west sides (Brownbook Magazine).

English design firm Portland's ideas for "greening" Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road -- by turning it into a park! / Image via Brownbook Magazine.

Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Commission released the first-ever? Urban Street Design Manual. Lots of good points — giving streets a 12 percent “road diet,” eliminating illegal parking, widening sidewalks and including tree shading. Their first prototype is the Corniche (not clear where, exactly). Have you noticed differences? (Gulf News Article and Video)

The Masdar Institute has a new video on the evolution of Abu Dhabi over the past 25 years, using aerial maps (UAE Interact).

Speaking of mapping, the city (curiously not the UPC) is using GIS technology to give developers and homeowners in-depth details on plots of land (Khaleej Times). But the UPC does have new sign regulations, plus more on gas ventilation and air conditioning units, to improve the safety and beautification of the city (AME Info).

ZonesCorp is working on a new Auto City in Mussafah, planned for completion in 2020 (Gulf News). Design firm Parsons won an award for its cross-cultural business relations in Abu Dhabi, they’ve done a lot of transit work like the Dubai Metro and Khalifa Bridge (Business Intelligence Middle East).

Abu Dhabi and Japan are forging an economic partnership (Emirates News Agency). NYU AD received a record-setting nearly 2,500 applicants for only 150 spots at the downtown Abu Dhabi campus (NYU AD: Salaam).

Elsewhere in the region…
Brownbook also has stories on Turkish firm Supercool using GIS mapping to improve Istanbul; Morocco’s Ecological Architecture and Systems of Tomorrow firm using sustainable architecture; Abu Dhabi’s organic farmers market; the gradual disappearance of Tehran, Iran’s historic neighborhood of Tajrish; and the growing Arab community of western Sydney, Australia.

At the Egyptian Coffee Shop, many of the customers are Egyptian; others are from Yemen, Algeria, Syria, and Morocco. And some are New Yorkers seeking an authentic hookah experience. / Image via NYT.

Lebanese newspaper Orient Le Jour has a great four-part video series from on the slow reconstruction of Beit Beirut, the beautiful and beleaguered Art Deco mansion that’s slated to become the city museum. (In English, subtitled in French.)
Part 1: A Unique Architecture
Part 2: The Happy Life
Part 3: In the Time of Snipers
Part 4: The Future of the “Yellow House”

Indian photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew revisits Mumbai of the 1970s-80s with his father’s archive mixed with his own photos in “Chronicles of a Past Life” (NYT India Ink). More detailed plans for Baku’s kilometer-high Azerbaijan Tower and related artificial islands (Atlantic Cities). Finally, take a trip to what may be the U.S.’ oldest hookah shop, the Egyptian Coffee Shop in Astoria, Queens in New York City (NYT).

Architects Debate Dubai’s Urban Planning Future in Connecting Neighborhoods

A postcard of Dubai, highlighting its iconic skyline. / Image via Postcards blog (karinka300.blogspot.com).

DUBAI — Nearly five years after the global financial collapse in 2008, Dubai stands at a crossroads. Though its economy and population have been growing over the past couple of years, the pause in construction allows for reflection on the city’s physical form.

At the first meeting of the year for the American Institute of Architects’ Middle East (AIA-ME) chapter at the Dubai Pavillion on January 29, architect Jonathan Ashmore of Anarchitect presented on the city’s context over the past 10 years:

  • Perception of it being a desert and ignoring the indigenous culture
  • Precedent of a postcard-like New York or Hong Kong
  • Infiltration of Dubai’s branding around the world using the Image of a successful skyline
  • Denial that the financial collapse would affect them, as there was still the buzz around the city, until the Exodus that cleared out the “dead wood” of the city.

    Now Dubai is at its Crux, the decisive stage, and there’s a Gap in the built environment.

    Plans for Business Bay, a development that is not fully completed. / Image via Real Estate Webmasters.

    “Empty space is space for renewal,” said Ashmore. “The city became fragmented, it’s not concentrated like in Europe.” These voids are opportunity for Integrated solutions and Regeneration — and re-establishing the Identity of the city and region.

    “These shouldn’t be demolitions,” said Ashmore, emphasizing reuse. “You cannot compare Dubai to global cities that have undergone cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. Now it’s time for small projects for integration and connect the interstitial spaces on a human scale.”

    Areas with potential include Ras Al-Khor (industrial district) and Business Bay (new central business district), he said. “We have to look at the micro and macro scales,” he said, emphasizing both the pedestrian scale and knitting together neighborhoods on a larger level.

    Architects responded favorably, offering a swirling mix of solutions. These ranged from top-down scaling like more central planning and having a visionary leader to push through plans, and also from the ground-up: more input from Dubai citizens, coordination with local architecture students, and temporary reuse of structures like in San Diego, Berlin or New York’s SOHO district.

    Solidere's Master Plan in the City Center (1994). Beirut's unplanned development could offer a model for Dubai. / Image via Worldview Cities.

    “But why even look that far?” one participant pointed out. Beirut, since its civil war ended in 1990, has been redeveloping spaces both from an official level with Solidère’s rebuilding the downtown, and from regular residents opening stores in half-constructed buildings.

    There does seem to be progress — the American University of Sharjah has an impressive College of Architecture, Art and Design; while Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai (in March 2012) offer the framework for reshaping the city.

    The meeting concluded with Victor Schoone talking about the upcoming annual World Water Day on March 12, 2012, the We Are Water Foundation‘s “We Art Water” film festival, and a screening of the film “Aral, the Lost Sea,” an ethereal look at the near-destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia.

Skyline Stories: Philly’s Dilworth Plaza, Death of Coney Island, Beijing’s Failed Historic Preservation

IN PHILLY…the long-anticipated groundbreaking for the renovation of the dreary 1960’s-era Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall! The $50 million renovation is being coordinated by the Center City District, with partial funding from the DOT’s TIGER grants, and is being designed by Philly firm Kieran Timberlake, Urban Engineers and landscape architects OLIN. In 2014, there will be better access to the subways, plus a fountain/ice rink, lawn and cafe. Unfortunately, SEPTA’s $100-200 million renovation of the stations seems in doubt (Center City District).

Could Pier 9’s parking lot could hold the original Philadelphia shoreline from the 1600’s? (PlanPhilly) For the adjacent Ben Franklin Bridge, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) approved $350,000 to design the bridge’s new bike ramp; construction scheduled to start in 2013-2014 (Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia).

Lots of hope for regeneration — from the distant hopes that a Casino Tourist District to resurrect Atlantic City (Philly.com), to an Inky billboard reviving Market East (NYT) to the long-shuttered Cubist? Tioga Theater being restored! (Hidden City). Meanwhile two fascinating TEDx-Philly videos on networking cities with Jennifer Pahlka (PlanPhilly) and mapping experiences with Amy Hillier (TEDx Philly).

Thor's Coney Island: Stillwell Avenue side of Joe Sitt's sterile and suburban looking new building in the new Coney Island. / Image via Amusing the Zillion and Tricia Vita.

IN NEW YORK…I never thought I’d write this, but the suburbanization of Coney Island has arrived (Amusing the Zillion). At least there are some relics of the past in Times Square (Forgotten NY). Twenty years after the Crown Heights riots, the neighborhood is in the path of being gentrified…for better or worse NYT).

Times Square’s pedestrianization seems to have ripple effect across the city, as developers are gobbling up parking lots — and not replacing the parking spaces (NYT). Intriguing study on taxi trips — they add to transit, not replace it! But if transit was more frequent and faster transit, then wouldn’t New York need fewer taxis like in European cities? (Atlantic Cities). Meanwhile a study shows that neighborhoods with higher crime cause people to walk less, but also take transit more (Mineta Transportation Institute).

Exciting times for sustainability in the city — Columbia has mapped energy use building-by-building (Solar One), tidal energy comes to Roosevelt Island (NYLCV) and new studies could play an important role in bringing urban agriculture into green infrastructure (Urban Omnibus). Watch for an upcoming film on Jamaica Bay, from my former Queens Chronicle editor Dan Hendrick (Queens Chronicle), and a fascinating interview with Michael Van Valkenburgh, the landscape architect who designed Brooklyn Bridge Park, on how he used topography to break the Manhattan grid (BMW Guggenheim Lab).

Plus a powerful photo essay on Cambodians in the Bronx
(Magnum Emergency Fund), and a cool audio-visual project by Benjamin Norman, tracing a year in New York with his iPhone (Milk Made).

NATIONWIDE… everyone is talking about redeveloping suburbs. Their built environment is literally killing us (NYT: Well) and developers are wondering how to redevelop around dead or dying strip malls (Atlantic Cities). Houston (of all cities) is adding green space with its Buffalo Bayou plan (Atlantic Cities), One Bay Area’s “Plan Bay Area” project hopes to make similar improvements (One Bay Area) and Boston is redeveloping the former Herald newspaper site on the waterfront (Boston.com),

Meanwhile, the Rails to Trails Conservancy published a groundbreaking study showing that people do walk and bike in rural America — in time for the hopes of restoring non-car money in the federal transportation budget (Streetsblog: DC). In transit news, high-occupancy toll lanes have reduced congestion but disappointingly not increased transit use (Atlantic Cities), but GPS tracking could improve transit (). Florida may have rejected high-speed rail, but Ft. Lauderdale is getting a downtown streetcar (Sun-Sentinel)

The USDA’s food desert map is a great idea — but with only a handful of Philly and New York City Census tracts showing food deserts, then how is it being measured? (USDA) Glad that it’s “the end of the segregated century” of American cities — but as the country re-urbanizes, could it swing back in the next 50 years? (Manhattan Institute) Could downtown cinemas hold the key to downtown rejuvenation? UCLA’s Film and TV Archive is now showing weekly films at the beautiful Million Dollar Theater (UCLA). The Architectural League announced its Emerging Voices awards (Architecture League)

Preservationists in Beijing awoke last weekend to find that the house of the famous architects Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin had been reduced to rubble. / Photo via NYT.

INTERNATIONALLY… China may have had its “Penn Station moment” of pushing for historic preservation, as Beijing destroyed the house of famous architects Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin (NYT). Meanwhile Indian cities are offering possibilities for low-carbon footprints (India Times), but are those too late for the rapidly growing Pearl River Delta mega-region of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, with 55 million people? (New Geography)

In Northern Ireland, Belfast is building a new museum for the Titanic in the shipyard neighborhood where it was built, opening for the 100th anniversary of its fated voyage next year (BBC), and Seville, Spain’s massive mushroom-shaped public art thing is actually successful? (Atlantic Cities)

Emotional mapping and the city — can the built environment improve residents’ moods?
BMW Guggenheim Lab A new study finds happy cities are beautiful, clean, safe and have safe drinking water Atlantic Cities. Maybe the real secret is building beautiful bookstores? (Flavorwire) I’ve only been to Paris’ Shakespeare and Co.

Cool look at maps from Frank Jacobs of the Strange Maps blog: South Sudan expects to re-plan its two biggest cities in the shape of animals, entering the obscure but fascinating field of cartozoology! Plus the never-built “Sham Paris” during World War II, and the notorious land octopus

Abu Dhabi: Metro and Light Rail by 2017, Tripoli Urban Planning, Baku’s Crystal Hall

After last week’s announcement of the raft of new infrastructure funding, there are a few more details on the transit systems.

Will Abu Dhabi's metro resemble European/North American ones or Dubai's monorail? / Image via AD UPC's Plan 2030.

Both the mostly-underground metro and light rail/tram are expected to be operational by 2016-2017. The metro would run 131 km, and there’s also curiously talk of a 31 km monorail. (Gulf News). Besides new highways to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, the design for the light rail line is supposed to be done this summer (The National).

The Urban Planning Council (UPC) is holding community charettes in the Eastern Region, including Al Ain (UPC), and is pushing the “Comprehensive Cooling Plan” to target inefficiency in buildings under the their Estimada’s program (The National).

Al Ain National Museum. / Image via ADACH.

The Al Ain National Museum, which opened in 1971, is scheduled to undergo a huge renovation (The National), while Scotland’s Energy Technology Partnership signed an agreement with Masdar City to collaborate on green energy projects (Huffington Post).

UAE University students in the Department of Geography and Urban Planning are going to use SuperGIS Desktop Lab Kit and GIS Learning CD (Directions Mag). The World Ports and Trade Summit returns to Abu Dhabi in April (Khaleej Times).

Elsewhere in the region…
Fascinating look at Tripoli’s urban planning in different eras — from the organic pre-colonial growth of the old town, to the Italian colonial-era of grand boulevards and neighborhood squares, to the Qaddafi-era bubbles of suburban life (Atlantic Cities).

Tour Beirut’s Little Armenia neighborhood (CNN). Should the private sector take over recycling and other city services in Amman, Jordan? (Tareeq)

Baku's Crystal Hall. / Image via World Architecture News.

Designs unveiled for Baku’s Crystal Hall, the venue for the upcoming Eurovision contest in only a few months! Apparently folds in to a larger waterfront redevelopment plan (World Architecture News). Istanbul, Turkey became one of Europe’s safest cities, primarily by lots of community policing (Atlantic Cities).

Skyline Stories: Philly Pop. Growth, Old New York Being Destroyed, Tactical Urbanism, Las Vegas Revival?, Paris UX

DVRPC forecasts 11 percent population growth by 2040. / Image via PlanPhilly.

IN PHILLY… Great news as the Philadelphia metro region is expected to grow by 11 percent by 2040, including Philly gaining 7 percent, rising to 1.6 million, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). Of course, these long-term predictions are simply educated guesses, and it seems odd that the most growth would not be near transit. Check out the DVRPC’s cool interactive map (PlanPhilly) and (DVRPC).

Franklin Mint site redevelopment. / Image via Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance.

Lots of rezoning and master plans in the works — for the Lower Schuylkill and the Lower South and western Fairmount Park (PlanPhilly). Meanwhile, the new urbanist Delaware County town replacing the Franklin Mint site has been down-scaled from 3 million to 1 million sq ft, though will develop SEPTA’s Wawa commuter rail station and include a conference center and hotel (Delco News Network).

But not everything is great with development — the Inky architectural critic Inga Saffron writes about the “student slum” in Powelton Village (Philly.com), which is later accompanied by a map that proves she’s right (Policy Map). And Curbed Philly opens, featuring former City Paper columnist Liz Spikol as editor (Curbed Philly).

IN NEW YORK… tragic news as Kodak filed for bankruptcy. The city of Rochester too has suffered the same downward spiral, after “urban renewal” in the 1960’s gutted the city (Atlantic Cities).

Hollywood Theater from the 1920's. / Image via HuffPo and Kevin Shea Adams.

Old New York places are being closed and/or destroyed — the former Hollywood Theater (HuffPo), Bleecker Bob’s record store and newer music venue Southpaw
(NYT), Washington Height’s Coliseum Theater (Daily News). In Brooklyn, it’s J.J.’s Navy Yard (Vanishing New York) and possibly the port culture of Red Hook (NYT).

At least the Seaport Museum is resurrected by MCNY (NYT). In Brooklyn, its downtown skyscraper historic district was approved (NYT CityRoom) and take a tour of cool Floyd Bennett Field (Floyd Bennett Field).

Why is New York still going for two convention centers? It’s a no-win situation (Atlantic Cities and Next American City). Thinking smaller seems better — like in the Bronx, with No Longer Empty has a cool mission of site-specific art and community revitalization with the Andrew Freedman House (Urban Omnibus). Travel back to the Bronx in the 1980’s with En Foco, the borough’s Latino photo group (NYT Lens Blog). Could installing solar panels on school roofs hold the key to green jobs? (Scott Stringer)

NATIONWIDE… this smaller-faster-cheaper-better system of street makeovers is also called “tactical urbanism” (Miller-McCune), and a new term “Pop-Up Hoods” (Fast Company).

New report by the Alliance for Biking and Walking shows that spending on bike and pedestrian improvements yields huge dividends, but the country’s car culture is hard to change. More than 1/4 of all trips are less than 1 mile, but 2/3 of them are by car (Alliance for Biking and Walking). Turns out that Washington D.C. is the second-best city for both (TBD). On street-bike parking holds promise (StreetFilms).

Walkable downtowns, which pay more taxes than suburban strip malls (DC Streetsblog), can also be created by retrofitting old buildings (Atlantic Cities). Shouldn’t most cities just use street grids? (Great American Grid)

When you look at New York, the central spine of Broadway leaps out at you. But the other big spines are telling as well: They conform to subway lines. In New York, neighborhoods truly live and die by the subway. / Image via Fast Company.

But even with new urbanist ideals, can Las Vegas’ downtown be revived by Zappos’ CEO — with no background in urban planning? Why not let citizens participate? (Fortune Magazine) At least Vegas has affordable housing. (Atlantic Cities) But it and southern cities are heading towards huge droughts (Atlantic Cities). LA’s small farms, dating to the 1910’s, are fading (LA Times). Bad news for California high speed rail (NYT).

This is why the Northeast Corridor needs high-speed rail — to replace all the flights from New York City, the number one cause of flight delays in the country (NYT). Washington D.C.’s new streetcar system should push up home values (Washington Examiner), while there’s also a national competition to redesign the National Mall (UPenn Design).

Chinatowns, like those in D.C., are moving to the suburbs (ULI). Finally: so cool — Twitter maps of cities could help plan better transit routes! (Fast Company)

IN PARIS… the coolest story in years is of the urban collective UX that preserves untended sites — including repairing the Panthéon’s clock (Wired). The city is pushing some sort of transit along the riverbanks — perhaps an improved vogueo (water taxis)? (Association Grand Paris). Take a visit to the Little India neighborhood (T Magazine).

Two people per second move to a city. / Image via The Guardian.

INTERNATIONALLY, for all the talk of cities planning small, rapid urbanisation to megacities is presenting problems of basic infrastructure that seem almost insurmountable (The Guardian). Sony presents Futurescapes scenarios for sustainable living in 2025
(Futurescapes). And “green” buildings are catching on around the world (Inman News).

Sadly, with all the new technology that improves cities, could it cause the death of the flâneur? (Atlantic Cities) Finally, a fascinating look at American comics translated into Arabic in Egypt and underground comics in China at the awesome Tin Tin Travels blog (Atlantic Cities).

Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat Island Museums by 2017, Etihad Towers Wins Awards, Beirut’s Martyr’s Square

Big news — most of the Saadiyat Island museums are back on! After construction was put on hold for several years, there are now set dates: Jean Nouvel’s $500 million Louvre in 2015, Lord Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Frank Gehry’s $800 million Guggenheim in 2017. No word on NYU-AD’s new campus, Tadao Ano’s maritime museum or Zaha Hadid’s performing arts center (New York Times).

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen here in 2010. / Image via TDIC and NYT.

Meanwhile the emirate’s Executive Council approved funding for a ton of new projects, including Saadiyat Island, expanding the International Airport and Khalifa Port, and building industrial areas in the Western Region and an auto city in Abu Dhabi. Most of the spending is on domestic projects, like housing, hospitals, schools and roads — plus Abu Dhabi’s metro and tram system (The National).

We had reported that the city’s metro is supposed to open in 2016, but that seems ambitious, and an updated timeline is scheduled for this year. The first phase of Etihad Rail — to transport sulphur from Ruwais — is funded with a $1 billion loan (The National).

The 'At 300' observation deck being fitted-out at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

The airport continues to expand — passengers up 14 percent to 12 million, cargo up 10 percent (The National) and Al Bateen Beach is scheduled to open in March (The National).

The $1 billion Etihad Towers in Jumeirah by DBI Design was named the World’s Leading New Hotel by the World Travel Awards, and will have an observation deck at 300 meters high (Construction Week: first and second articles).

To improve sustainability, Abu Dhabi should look into banning plastic bags like many global cities have done (Atlantic Cities). Plus lecture at the Sorbonne-AD lecture on Arabic’s contributions to the French language (Zawya).

Elsewhere in the region…

The Bourj, early 1900's. / Image via Global Urbanist.

Fascinating three-part series on Beirut’s reconstruction over the past 20 years. Intriguingly, Martyr’s Square’s current form — of an open, public space — is a maidan, a traditional feature of Arabian cities. While the reconstruction is admirable — the downtown looks like 1920’s Paris — it’s also become a polarizing space, for the urban elite (Global Urbanist: First, Second and Third). As Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Manama’s Pearl Roundabout showed, these public squares are often flashpoints for democratic protests (Design Observer).

Watch out Dubai — Avesta is looking to Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in building a 1,050 supertower on a chain of artificial islands in the Caspian Sea
(Arabian Business). Madinah, Saudia Arabia is to be redeveloped by MMM with improving its green space (Arab News), Atkins finished Oman’s $1 billion Medical City master plan (Arabian Business) and in Kazakhstan, Almaty’s new metro looks beautiful (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, a fascinating photo series on American Muslims (NYT Lens Blog)

Skyline Stories: Philly’s Central Delaware Master Plan Wins AIA Award, Casinos, CA’s RDA’s Cut, TIGER Grants

Master Plan for the Central Delaware won the 2012 AIA's Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design / Image via PlanPhilly.

In PHILLY… big day as the City Planning Commission approved the Zoning Map Revision Plan, establishing the city’s first zoning revisions in 50 years, in tandem with a 5-year process of remapping each district (PlanPhilly).

The citizen-designed Central Delaware Master Plan won the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s Honor Award (PlanPhilly). Philly’s GIS system is one of the top in the country (Technically Philly).

PennDOT archaeologists uncover historic Dyottville Glass Works during I-95 excavations. / Image via PlanPhilly.

Nearly 50 Philly Catholic schools are closing — and developers are salivating (Philly.com) — and the city is hoping for more jobs by dredging the Delaware River another 5 feet (Philly.com). Thought I-95’s expansion will continue to block access to the river, archaeological work has discovered the soon-to-be-demolished Dyotville Glass Works in Kensington (PlanPhilly).

Why do cities continue to bet their futures on casinos? So much competition for decreasing profits. Atlantic City is hoping more casinos will push it forward, while Delaware hopes to protect its casinos. (Philly.com)

Nationwide, cities are pushing neighborhood livability — in Baltimore’s Downtown (Baltimore Sun), Washington D.C.’s The Yards (Atlantic Cities) and even Detroit, and offering housing stipends via the city (Nightly Business Report). Powerful video of Detroit’s scrappers, who melt down copper to sell to China…who sells it back to the U.S. Stayed tuned for the upcoming film “Detropia” (NYT). Cities are also trying to rethink their local and regional economies largely without federal help (Atlantic Cities).

Less than 10 percent of the nation’s metropolitan areas have recovered the jobs they have lost since the recession. Of the largest metro areas, Houston is the only one that has returned to pre-recession levels. / Image via NYT.

But cities are far from positive — less than 10 percent of metropolitan areas have recovered jobs (NYT), and California axed its redevelopment authorities (Atlantic Cities) and lots of departures from its High Speed Rail Authority (Systemic Failure). I’m on the fence about the RDA’s, sure they rebuilt inner cities with affordable housing, but also invested in neighborhood-killers like stadiums; and can’t their activities can be folded into more transparent city or state agencies?

TWA NYC 1960's. / Image via Atlantic Cities.

Improving transit infrastructure is the big theme this week, especially in the Southeast where a study finds the link between driving and obesity (Planetizen). But the new TIGER grants’ only urban project in the South is improving capacity for Charlotte’s light rail line. Chicago is the big winner with $20 million for overhauling the Blue Line tracks and expanding bike share. Philly gets $10 million for traffic signal upgrades (DOT [PDF]). Speaking of bike share, how cool would it be to have a card that could work on any system in the country? (Streetsblog)

Interstate system as a metro map. / Image via Atlantic Cities.

Cool maps and images:

• In New York, its ghost subway system WNYC and The City That Never Was (Untapped Cities), which reminds me of Skyscraper Museum’s 2007 “New York Modern” exhibit with Hugh Ferris drawings (Skyscraper Museum) Plus Project Neon (Untapped Cities) complements the New York Neon Blog (New York Neon).

• Federal highways as a metro (Atlantic Cities) and every tree in the country (Inhabitat). Paris’ RER-B line as the Eiffel Tower (Transit Maps) and the periodic table of city planning elements (Stephens Planning). Plus cool TWA posters from 1960’s — the best is Times Square (Atlantic Cities)

Paris RER B as Eiffel Tower. / Image via Transit Maps.

• Cool uses of citizen cartography (BMW Guggenheim Lab), but navigating the city with mental maps is more complicated than you’d think (Atlantic Cities).

Finally, architecture firm Perkins and Will has a new Transparency database to evaluate the health effects of construction materials (Urban Omnibus) and China is officially urbanized! It was 10 percent only 60 years ago (Atlantic Cities).

Abu Dhabi: World Future Energy Summit, Solar Power, E-Villa and Estimada, Al Reem Island, Qatar’s Space City, Petra Plan

Big event of the week was the World Future Energy Summit at ADNEC, I couldn’t attend due to school but United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized supporting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases to slow down climate change (The National).

Capt. Jaber Al Shehhi on top of the MS Turanor PlanetSolar inspecting the solar panels. / Image via ADPC.

As part of the summit, the world’s largest solar-powered ship docked at the Marina (Abu Dhabi Ports Co.). Despite the UAE building a handful of nuclear power plants, solar energy was the big focus this week, as the carbon-neutral Masdar City has new high-power solar panels from TVP Solar (AME Info) and are partnering with Spain’s Sener to build $5 billion in solar power plants (Green Building Magazine: Middle East).

Back in the city proper, the Municipality and Urban Planning Council (UPC) are quickly modernizing the city’s building infrastructure. Abu Dhabi is slated to get a building code soon (The National), and the UPC is setting up the Estimada sustainability ratings for existing buildings (not a small task) and launching an e-villa configurator for villa owners and developers to design their plans online, showing how different aspects affect the sustainability rating (Khaleej Times). Meanwhile the city is making it easier for developers to submit plans online (Emirates News Agency).

Dubai's The Palm is still a far cry from the vision of its original master plan for 30 five-star hotels with 14,000 rooms. / Image via The National and Reuters.

Meanwhile, Reem Investments is going to make Al Reem Island a new South Korean hub, including a Korean Cultural Center (Reem Investments). Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi students participated in the recent International Renewable ENergy Association (IRENA) Assembly (Emirates News Agency), plus a new Abu Dhabi film club is launching on January 25th (Aflam).

Elsewhere in the emirate, Mubadala won $1 billion in Airbus contracts for a plant in Al Ain (The National), and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is looking to invest in India’s urban infrastructure (Zee News). In Dubai, more luxury hotels are slowly opening on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah (The National) and a billion-dollar Las Vegas-style development is slated to replace Dubai’s oldest hotel, The Metropolitan (The National).

Elsewhere in the region…

Design Workshop's new master plan for Petra, Jordan includes almost 95 percent conservation zones or open space, and watershed management. / Image via American Planning Association.

Qatar continues its building boom, with a $3 billion Space City, including a NASA-sponsored university (Hotelier Middle East), the $130 million Sidra Village by China’s Sinohydro (Zawya) and the Gulf’s largest labor camp holding 50,000 people. (Construction Week) Their soon-to-launch Green Building Council should improve sustainability. (Zawya)

In Saudi Arabia, its high-speed rail line continues to expand, signing an $8 billion contract with a Spanish rail group to connect Mecca and Medina. (WSJ) And urban design firm KEO is going to manage a mixed-use development in Jeddah (MEED).

In the Levant, there’s an upcoming conference on a greener Beirut (Beirut Green Project), and Design Workshop’s new master plan for Petra, Jordan won the APA’s Pierre l’Enfant International Planning Award (Jordan Times). Finally, who knew the oldest standing mosque in the United States is in Iowa and dates only to the 1930’s? (The National)